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Apple HomePod Mini: Good at speaking, better at listening

(TECH NEWS) Apple is making another push into the world of bluetooth enabled always-on speakers with a revamped HomePod Mini, which is a fantastic listener (and why that might be bad).

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Apple Home Pod Mini, raising issues of privacy.

Apple just keeps doing stuff. And more stuff. They release new M1 chips and new iPhones and a bunch of other things. One of the newer options is their HomePod Mini, which is sure to be a big seller this holiday as companies continue to push always-on Bluetooth-enabled home speakers with promises of ease of use and improved quality of life.

It’s an easy sell for Apple, especially if you’re living in their product ecosystem of mobile devices, messaging apps, smart watches, and all the other bits of technology that can easily communicate with each other in a seamless fashion.

It’s a beautiful thing from a consumer perspective – the ability for your photos to be instantly accessible and easily shared across multiple domains and devices, to stop a podcast in your car and immediately resume it at your work desk, and knowing that your data is always backed up and retrievable.

At $99, the HomePod Mini further tightens this web of accessibility – it brings Siri access into the comfort of your home, you can pair two of them together to provide stereo sound with your AppleTV, and it can hook into your iMessages contact list to let you dictate texts quickly. While other devices can do this as well, the AppleTV carries more versatility by offering access to more streaming services than Amazon’s Fire devices (though in the world of streaming, this most likely gets evened out over time).

And all of that is great on the surface – the device is delivering on its promises and consistent use would easily justify a purchase. There is no question on utility and whether or not it is delivering and performing as desired from a consumer’s perspective. To suggest otherwise would be unfair and suggest that someone has an axe to grind – anecdotal evidence or other similarly unfounded premises stretched far and painted with broad strokes. I had an iPhone that broke years ago and in my frustration, I switched to Android. Still, that’s not much of a reason to
denigrate a new speaker from Apple. Reviews are glowing and rightfully so.

Perhaps the only true thing that should be questioned relates to user privacy. Apple has gone on record and stated on numerous occasions that they are committed to user privacy – that their devices do not record everything that is said, nor that audio data is stored forever to be mined for monetary purposes. CEO Tim Cook even stated strong convictions about privacy as a fundamental human right.

Go to their site and you’ll find a really snazzy page that tells you how your data is protected – that messages are encrypted end-to-end during transmission, identifying information is not included in the transmissions to Apple’s servers, and their Apple Pay system means you never divulge credit card information. Let’s be clear – these are excellent, wonderful things, and Apple should be applauded for doing what it has done. Such actions are at least a step above other tech giants in this realm.

Consumers should know, however, that despite these claims, Apple has been caught listening in on personal matters, and that privacy controls may not be enabled by default (and could be difficult to track down for an average user). I found a rather intense and detailed breakdown of such issues through this wonderful post by Ian Bogost, who discusses the controversy in a clear and concise (if alarming) way. The short answer – Apple gets a lot of public support and approval for its stance on privacy, but should be admonished for still providing several avenues of intrusion and for working with companies that may be actively violating privacy.

Where does that leave us with the HomePod Mini? It is a fantastic device, sure, but as with anything that is always-on and always listening, consumers may want to first consider how much utility is gained for potential privacy sacrificed. Although, the pessimist says we’re all being tracked anyway, but I want to end this on a positive note.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Real Estate Technology

Lennar is building an entire community of 3D printed homes in Austin

(TECHNOLOGY) With material and labor shortages impacting new construction, Lennar is developing a new strategy to keep up with demand: 3D printed homes.

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3d printed homes by Lennar

With material and labor shortages impacting new home construction, companies are having to develop new strategies to keep up with demand. Lennar, one of the largest homebuilders in the nation, is turning to 3D printing technology as a way to build homes faster than conventional methods. One Austin community is slated to break ground on 100 3D printed homes in 2022. Lennar partnered with ICON to bring this community to the Texas city.

3D printed homes – theory or practice?

Last year, The Washington Post called 3-D homes “futuristic” and “homes of the future.” 3D printed homes are supposed to be less expensive to build and energy-efficient, but the real push for 3D printed homes is the time frame for building.  3D Homes can go up much quicker than traditional homes while following code and building structures that can withstand the weather conditions of the area. Still, it’s a new technology. Currently, only homes up to 3,000 square feet can be built through 3D printing.

3d printed homes by Lennar

Concerns about 3D printed homes

According to Fictiv, a Digital Manufacturing Ecosystem, 3D printing has grown from $4.4 billion in 2013 to an industry bringing in a projected $21 billion in 2021. 3D printing is changing many industries, from jewelry to healthcare. 3D printed homes hold a lot of potential, but there are skeptics in the construction industry. The technology is in its early days. Currently, only walls are being printed. Foundations still need to be built. Currently, roofs are not being printed. Some experts believe that it may take 30 to 40 years to see a disruption in the construction industry.

Lennar is not the first company to build 3D homes. New Story, a San Francisco non-profit, partnered with ICON to build 50 3D printers in Tabasco, Mexico. A German-based company, Peri, partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a 3D-printed home in Tempe, Arizona. Apis Cor built a home in Russia in just 24 hours using 3D technology.

We’ll have to watch and see how 3D printing changes construction.

3d printed homes by Lennar

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Real Estate Technology

1 in 3 houses are already smart homes – do you know your obligations when marketing one?

Realtors may market a home as smart homes, so do you know what qualifies and what disclosures are required?

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smart homes

Did you know that a third of all homes in America currently meet the requirement to be called a “smart home,” and that is expected to rise to 54% in less than 24 months? What are you doing to properly market your listings accordingly? How are you studying the trend to make sure people that need accessibility features of smart homes are accommodated?

This was the very topic at hand at a lively panel at the 2021 REALTORS® Conference & Expo led by Craig Grant, CEO of The Real Estate Technology Institute & RETI.us and Brandon Doyle, a Maple Grove, Minnesota Realtor and host of “Home Tech Decisions” on YouTube. The overarching theme of the discussion was the benefits of smart homes to the real estate business.

Grant notes that it doesn’t take large investments to make a house a smart home. “Just having a few devices in specific categories, such as certain lighting, security cameras, or appliances, qualifies a home to be a smart home,” he notes.

To call a home “smart,” it must have a reliable internet connection and smart items in at least three categories, and may then be marketed as such.

“These homes were once only for the ultra rich, but we’ve gone from only super-wealthy people like Bill Gates having these products to every home now having at least one or two smart items,” said Doyle, who jokes that companies like Amazon basically give away these devices as a “gateway drug” to other connected devices.

The two presented data revealing that 26% of Baby Boomers currently have smart home technologies in their homes, 49% of Generation Xers, and 77% of Millennials.

This data implies that rapid increase you should expect in the market, as consumers increasingly own smart home features, but will also expect them as part of a listing.

The panelists note that it is not just novelty that consumers seek, but ease of use and accessibility, thus the popularity of products like lighting systems, carbon monoxide detectors, and digital thermostats.

“Smart home technology can now be used by seniors and those with disabilities to assist them in day-to-day activities,” noted Grant. He adds that real estate professionals play a role in being able to educate senior buyers and their families of how smart homes can aide their lives. He illustrates with the examples of smart home devices that detect falls, voice-activated features like curtains, and aides that help the visually impaired and hearing impaired.

The panelists acknowledged the risks associated with smart homes (like the vulnerability of not changing passswords from the default or when moving away, and the listening features of smart devices), but ultimately conclude that settings can often disable these features, and that the rewards outweigh the risk.

They also asserted that Realtors have an obligation to know all rules and requirements regarding selling a smart home, such as explaining what devices are included in the close of a property, and disclosing any hazards, as well as adhering to all privacy laws.

Although not woven into the panel, the National Association of Realtors (host of the annual conference) does offer an inexpensive, 12 credit hour certification course, “Smart Home Certification” which could be the shorcut to understanding your obligations when selling or marketing a smart home.

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Real Estate Technology

AI can now spot fake landlords and rental scams

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) False rental listings have risen so Scamlord.ai is helping renters by offering education and guidance on how to avoid becoming a target of rental fraud.

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scamlord.ai scammer

Even with a global pandemic going on, some US renters still need to find a new place to live. The world keeps spinning and people are having to find ways to adapt. Unfortunately, as more people are turning to fully online resources to find their next property, it can be harder for some to tell fact from fiction. That is where Scamlord.ai steps in.

Online scammers are in full effect creating fake landlords and rental listings to lure people into fraudulent deals. Scamlord.ai is a new, AI-driven tool that helps people stay away from potential rental fraud.

Scamlord.ai was created by Onerent, a small-residential rental manager on the West Coast. This new tool is designed to help renters avoid losing money and personal information to rental scams. According to the Scamlord.ai website, the tool was created by gathering thousands of fraudulent rental listings over the past several years and feeding them into a machine learning model. When renters input listing information, the AI uses that to track patterns in the contact information which allows it to tell if the listing is actually a scam.

Rental fraud has become a huge problem in the U.S. market with over 5 million U.S. renters reporting losing money to rental scams. Scamlord.ai creators hope that their tool can help more renters avoid this type of heartbreak.

We want to educate renters of the dangers of rental scams and save the money, risk, and fear of rental fraud. Any details we verify as scam will help us build a database of scammers,” said Rico Mok, co-founder of Onerent.

Scamlord.ai has a simple interface. All users need to do is input the listing phone number, email address, owner name, URL, and property address of a potential rental property and the AI will be able to tell if this is a legitimate listing.

The website also includes some helpful information for renters on how to spot a potential rental scam and what to do if they come across a fraudulent listing. Some of the warning signs include:

  • Rental listings being priced at a huge discount compared to similar homes in the area
  • Communicating with strange and sporadic emails
  • Requesting money upfront via wire transfer or prepaid debit card

Scamlord.ai is helping renters navigate a frequently changing world by offering education and guidance on how to avoid becoming a target of rental fraud.

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